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Peking Opera artist Meng Guanglu

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Peking Opera is a synthesis of speech, song, dance and combat. It's known as the national opera of China, and is regarded by many as the most refined form of opera in the world. It features four main types of performers, one of which is Jing, the painted face male role. Meng Guanglu is a Jing performer with the Tianjin Youth Peking Opera Troupe. He stands out among the younger generation for his penetrating voice and creative mind. Today, we step into the world of Meng Guanglu, and share his stories both on the off stage.

Meng Guanglu plays as Cao Cao

Meng Guanglu plays as Cao Cao 

Meng Guanglu has performed the aria "Five Dragons Subdued" countless times. And it never fails to won applause from the audience.

An audience member said, "He boasts a genuine Qiu School voice, and he reaches the high-pitched notes with ease and grace. Professionally we call it 'Sound from the Back of the Head."

"His art is quite innovative, making it possible to attract an audience of the younger generation. He's inherited and carried forward the fine opera traditions," said an audience member.

"He approaches each show with the same earnest attitude. So I think he's an outstanding Peking Opera artist of the younger generation," said an audience member.

Meng Guanglu said, "I've performed in Beijing for more than two decades. Over the years I've developed a deep feeling for the Beijing audience. I'm greatly honored by the recognition and support given me by the audience in Beijing and across the country. So I treat each of my shows, no matter how many times I've performed, just like my debut."

"Five Dragons Subdued" is a signature piece from the Qiu School,founded by late master Qiu Shengrong. Qiu was famous for portraying Jing--the painted face, male roles.

And Meng Guanglu is a worthy successor. His powerful penetrating voice allows him to handle his roles with ease and grace.

Meng said, "The beauty of Peking Opera can be sensed in a split second. Your emotions for your role each time might be different. Performances are somewhat fixed. But the creativity behind each role varies."

Meng Guanglu plays at 'Five Dragons Subdued'

Meng Guanglu plays at "Five Dragons Subdued"

Jing is one of the four types of roles in Peking Opera, along with Sheng, Dan, and Chou.

Peking Opera was born when the "Four Great Anhui Troupes" came to Beijing in 1790.

It was originally staged for the royal family but is popular with people of all walks of life.

It's not monolithic, but rather a coalescence of many opera forms from across the country.

Performers must master four skills: song, speech, dance-acting, and combat, which includes both acrobatics and fighting with all manner of weaponry.

The painted face plays an important role, especially for Jing. Color denotes character. Red stands for valor and loyalty; white represents wickedness and cunning; black stands for uprightness; and blue signals surly obstinacy, rashness and unruliness.

Four decades of dedication have allowed Meng to develop his own understanding of his stage characters.

This is most evident in his portrayal of Bao Zheng, a much-acclaimed Song Dynasty official, known for his uncompromising stance against corruption.

Meng said, "The role of Bao Zheng needs to be portrayed as prudent. Painted Face roles don't have to be expansive all the time. Their characters vary. Bao Zheng behaves with dignity. The force of the aria needs to be tempered."

Perhaps it's this creativity and originality that made Meng what he is today. No one would have guessed that a son of a working class family would fall in love with Peking Opera when he was only four. Or that the passion would be the start of an extraordinary career.

Over the years Meng has won numerous prizes, including the Mei Lanfang Gold Award, and the Plum Blossom Award, the most coveted trophy in Chinese theater.

Along his way of exploration and experimentation, Meng Guanglu boldly incorporates elements of various forms of art into his performances.

"Zheng He's Voyage to the Western Seas" re-casts a household tale into a grand epic combining Peking Opera, musical, drama and symphony orchestra. Meng plays Zheng He, a legendary eunuch who made seven expeditions to the western seas during the Ming Dynasty.

With no models to learn from, Meng made a thorough study of Zheng He. He found his own artistic approach to bring out the raw emotion of the character's complex inner self that is both heroic and emotionally depressed.

Meng said, "Zheng He's Voyage to the Western Seas' is a very touching piece. I'm moved to tears every time I perform the 'Matsu' aria. And I think it's one of the most mature arias I've sung in my career. I once performed this excerpt, backed by a symphony orchestra of over 100 musicians. I found the music was going out tune. I asked why and was told that the musicians were all moved to tears."

Meng Guanglu is tireless in promoting Peking Opera. He says the younger generation need to know more about traditional operas, instead of only pop culture.

In the face of the challenges facing Peking Opera nowadays, Meng says the key driving force to the renewal of the art form is the performers themselves.

Meng said, "It's said that Peking Opera is now on the decline. I don't think so. Maybe it's because many opera buffs snap up tickets for my shows. I think it's the industry practitioners themselves who play the pivotal role in revitalizing the art form. As a performer, you need to be responsible for your audience, with a down-to-earth attitude. There are opera lovers of different ages in the country's elementary schools, middle schools, colleges and universities. Many college students love Peking Opera very much, and they have extracurricular opera activities on campus. I think the development of culture is closely associated with the literary tradition of a nation. Only an outstanding tradition can lead to the proper development of an outstanding culture. Having performed for so many years, I know well where my shortcomings lie. It's really hard for an actor to keep a cool head throughout his entire career. That's the deep significance."


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